IN A RECENT article discussing proposed changes to Augusta's government, Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta, stated, "Let the debate begin." I have news for the senator: This debate has been going on for years, and now is the time for action - not more talk.
The consolidated government of Augusta-Richmond County has proven, beyond doubt, that its current structure is unworkable. Gridlock now paralyzes the city's leaders into a constant political tug-of-war. In a time of serious security concerns, one of the most important public safety posts - the fire chief - has gone unfilled because of bickering on the city commission.
In a time of economic recession, with hard business decisions to be made over public funding and spending, the Finance director's job remains empty.
The city administrator is in the unenviable position of having responsibility for day-to-day management without any authority. Without the power to hire and fire, he is powerless to direct the daily business of the city while commissioners dabble in the various departments for their own purposes.
MEANWHILE, THE mayor is just a weak figurehead; arguments that the "personality" of the mayor can make up for the structural weakness of the position are only made by those who have the most to gain from city hall's continuing chaos.
The Augusta-Metro Chamber of Commerce is experiencing meltdown and is under attack from the very people who claim to want to bring industry to our area. The only growth taking place in our region is outside Richmond County; many people, disgusted with lack of cooperation and progress, are voting with their feet.
We are slowly but surely developing the reputation as a second-rate city with a third-rate government. Only dramatic - and immediate - action can stem this tide of mediocrity. South Richmond County residents have waited patiently but in vain for consolidation's long-promised benefits.
The gravy train goes 'round and 'round inside the Marble Palace but never stops to pick up any new riders, still carrying the same collection of self-dealing insiders who have thwarted progress at every turn.
My friend and colleague, Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta, has courageously introduced legislation that would bring much-needed reform to our city. By giving the mayor real powers and by shutting down the cowardly practice of "abstentions" that are now used to block decision-making, her bill would create order and discipline in a government which has sadly demonstrated neither.
When I was mayor of Waynesboro, my position allowed me to vote in the case of a tie, and to exercise a veto, which could be overridden by the city commission. This provided a balance of powers between the commission and the mayor which made it necessary for both parties to work together for the good of the community.
Unfortunately, the good of the community takes last place in the current deliberations, and without real reform, Augusta will continue its slow downward spiral into self-destruction.
LEADERS OF OUR business community need to voice their support for this legislation before the opportunity slips away. At the very least, all Augusta residents should be allowed to express their will via a referendum. To do less than this is to betray the very people we profess to serve.
(Editor's note: The author is a Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives for District 119.)
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